We are a few days into January now and though the year has changed the demands and routines we left in 2022 will no doubt be still with us, shaping and forming the days ahead. Some of us will have, perhaps, paused at the change of the year and resolved to redirect our energies or review our habits, setting new goals or aspiring to give up the habits that hold us back. Some will have enjoyed the celebrations, and committed to simply carrying on as before.
New years, like the first page of a new exercise book, offer us the opportunity to make a new start. Our mistakes and misfortunes can be abandoned in the year we have left and we can move forward, freed from the feelings of guilt and shame, and maybe this year, things will be better.
New years are also opportunities to look for new openings, new projects to undertake, and new dreams and directions to follow. Those of us who look to God for our direction, love to hear the words that he promises new plans, and new blessings and we hope that we might see more of these this year. And yet we also know that for many this is not the reality they see. The change from December to January did not bring peace to the people of Ukraine, it did not resolve the crisis in our NHS, it did not heal the daily conflict between employees and employers and it did not reconcile the cost of living with our ability to pay.
Today’s crises affect us on different levels, impacting our personal lives, how we live in our communities, and as members of society as a whole. Our responses, demands, and actions inevitably affect the lives of others, because our lives are intertwined. As citizens of this nation, we are in this together, however, some of us are more badly affected than others. Those who have little to start with often face the harshest consequences as do those who are most vulnerable, sick, old, and very young. The church, often a place where the struggling seek support, is facing its own crisis too with falling congregations and closing doors telling us that all is not well here either.
Those of us who have lived for any length of time will know, however, that hard times are nothing new. Fuel prices were high in the 1970s. Strikes were a regular reality in that decade and the one that followed, and Russia’s Communism has claimed the lives of many millions since the days of Lenin. Though we have made progress in many areas; medicine, technology, our respect for those who are different from ourselves, and in other areas too, nevertheless, hard times remain.
Personally, I am aware too, that many of the difficult situations we face each day are in part the consequences of our own choices and limitations. However skilled, good, patient, or committed we hope we might be, often, the reality we live in is a long way short of this ideal. Our relationships can be damaged by our actions, and our capacity to work restricted, by our limited skills and the energy we have to deliver them. It can be hard to accept, but I am often reminded that much of the responsibility for my own problems lies within myself, and I am certain that I am not alone in this.
The writers of the New Testament knew all this. They lived in times of huge technological advancement, and social opportunity, and yet they knew that life for the outsiders, and the have-nots was extremely hard. The new church communities they formed were in almost constant crisis. Under pressure from circumstances in the culture around them, and under stress from damaged relationships within. Life was tough for them too.
So what is the solution? Where do we find hope for the future? Can we overcome our own limitations? What should our resolutions look like for the year ahead? These are huge questions that cannot be answered in a brief article such as this, but let me point you toward the words of someone who knew how to make mistakes, and how to come back from them too. His name is Peter and he was a friend of Jesus. We have copies of two letters he wrote to small church communities in crisis, and in them, he proposes a radical but disarmingly simple solution.
He, first of all, encourages them to live hopefully, looking forward to better times ahead, because ultimately they knew that one day they would meet Jesus. He then reminds them that they should live holy lives, lives made pure by the way they resemble the life that Jesus led. He tells them to love each other genuinely and deeply and to shun all malice and envy and slander. More than that he exhorts them, not to repay evil or abuse with the same, but to be prepared to suffer, even for doing good, because in this they would be sharing in the suffering that Jesus went through. Peter’s letter is tough, but it is filled with light, and love, and hope. He reminds us that though we may not be able to change the circumstances of our lives, the things that are beyond our control, we can choose to live hope-filled lives, being the best we can be. We can also choose to live our lives in ways that make life better for the people who live around us and who we love. This sounds like a great place to start the year.
It may be cold and dark now, but that is because it is winter. Warmer, brighter, and better days are coming. Let’s do what we can to make them that way.